12/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent
UNISON, Va. Every year about this time Frans and Mary Kok welcome to their Christmas tree farm a truckful of Russians, led by Counselor of Agriculture Valery Khromchenkov. They come in pursuit of a suitably large tree for the Washington, D.C., embassy’s grand ballroom.
The Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm (www.middleburgxmastrees.com) is the place to find that tree, and for the last six years the Russians have found that perfect tree there the farm this year offers 2,610 trees ready for cutting. Of those, about 1,000 are 9 feet and taller. “Embassy” trees are priced at $350.
It all started when the Russians had a “horrible” experience with a tree purchased somewhere in Maryland. It was a Norway spruce, Frans Kok said, and just as the ambassador was toasting the New Year, it dropped every needle. Whoosh. All at once, bare tree.
“The Norway spruce does that. When it decides to drop its needles they all go at once. A sneeze can set it off. The rest, they drop a few here and there.”
The Russians started looking for a different farm with large trees.
His 125-acre tree farm offers Douglas firs 20 feet and better, and the Douglas fir “smells like a fir” and holds its needles.
Khromchenkov said his crew is looking for a tree of at least six meters (about 20 feet), plus an eight-foot tree for the ambassador’s residence.
Frans and Mary Kok bought the farm not far from Middleburg, Va., in 1979 and started planting trees right away. “We pushed the numbers on a lot of crops sheep, cattle, soybeans, corn and at that time nothing made sense,” Frans said. “Christmas trees looked like they would make sense from a financial standpoint.”
They did make sense (and cents). The farm opened to the public in 1985 and sold 600 trees. Today the farm sells 1,500 to 2,000 Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruce and Douglas fir each year to the ever-growing ranks of cut-your-own customers.
A couple came to the farm in 1986 with two little boys in a double stroller, Kok recalled. They were back this year to find and cut that perfect tree, children and grandchildren in tow.
The Koks invite neighbors and friends to the annual visit by the Russians, and put out a spread of lox on rye, hot chili, mulled wine and the requisite Russian Stolichnaya vodka. Once the trees are cut, wrapped and in the truck for their trip back to D.C., the entire crew settles down for some serious socializing. Detente at its best.<\c> Photos by Shannon Sollinger
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A sturdy crew from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., hauls their fresh-cut 6-meter (about 20 feet) tall Douglas fir at the Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm in Unison, Va., to a waiting truck for its trip to the embassy ballroom and the soon-to-commence holiday festivities there. Russians will celebrate Christmas January 7, which corresponds to December 25 on their Gregorian calendar.
LF20121222-S Russian Tree 2/